Magnet programs to grow, but slower Baltimore. Co. schools modify their proposal after summer review

January 15, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County, responding to a sometimes-critical study, plans to expand its magnet school programs, but at a much slower rate than during the first three years of the popular initiative.

No new magnet programs will open next fall. But at least two additional high school programs will be proposed for September 1997, school administrators say, responding to a consultants' study that found gaps and inconsistencies in the system.

"We plan to improve, modify and expand our programs," said the magnet schools director, Anita Stockton.

But, added Richard E. Bavaria, the school system's assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction: "We must do this fairly and cost-effectively."

Since September 1993, the county has opened 25 magnet programs in 24 schools, making up quickly for what some board members and administrators saw as a gap in the system.

More than 10,000 students are enrolled in the programs, which focus on a specific area of interest and are designed to offer students a choice, alleviate overcrowding in other schools and increase racial integration.

Despite the magnets' popularity, several board members criticized them last year for springing up randomly, costing too much and siphoning money from neighborhood schools. The critics tried unsuccessfully to withhold funds from programs already accepting students.

But the dissension triggered the consultants' study and strategic plan, completed last summer. The consultants noted that the application and selection procedures lacked consistency and that some middle school programs did not continue into high school.

The most immediate needs, Dr. Stockton said, are for westside high school programs in visual and performing arts and in computer application of math and science, and an eastside high school program in environmental studies. Without these, students in elementary and middle school magnets might be unable to continue a specific course of study, she said.

According to the county's plan, Randallstown High could fill the westside needs.

"Randallstown is in a position to answer the demand that's there," said Dr. Stockton. That school, which is underenrolled and more than 80 percent black, would add specialties in visual and performing arts and enriched math and science courses. Its mass communications program, which has been growing over the past few years, also would become a magnet offering.

Dr. Stockton did not say whether a site has been selected for the eastside environmental school. Western School of Technology and Environmental Sciences in Catonsville accepts students from throughout the county, but generally has many more applicants than it can accommodate.

Another need -- for high school courses in Japanese -- is expected to be filled by Catonsville and Pikesville highs. They will not become magnets but expect to start offering the language next year for students now in three westside middle school magnet programs.

"We would not recruit students for those programs," Dr. Stockton said. But students could apply for a transfer from their home schools.

The application and selection process -- quite competitive at some schools -- will change, but not as much as the consultant recommended. Dr. Stockton said elementary students will be chosen almost completely by lottery and there will be fewer auditions for middle school applicants.

High school administrators, however, will continue to oversee the selection of students rather than turning it over to the central office, as the consultant's report advised. The school system will work on a more standardized application form and procedure for high schools.

Meanwhile, board member Sanford V. Teplitzky wants administrators to devise a plan so parents and teachers from neighborhood schools will stop complaining they are being cheated by spending on magnet schools.

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